- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

July 3, 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Time for pension reform 2.0

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday said loudly, clearly and ominously that public employee pension benefits in the state cannot be cut.

That can mean only one thing: State and local lawmakers had better get working on a Plan B. Illinois needs alternatives to the state pension-reform law passed in December and to the Chicago pension-reform law passed in May. The options are limited - it may come down to a constitutional amendment - but the state’s best minds better get cracking.

It isn’t an exaggeration, even in the slightest, to say Illinois’ future depends on it.

Thursday’s 6-1 ruling did not cover the state bill, which cuts benefits for state and university employees, legislators and teachers outside Chicago, nor did it affect the Chicago bill, which impacts pensions for municipal workers and laborers.

In this case, the justices ruled that subsidized health care for retired state employees is protected under the Illinois Constitution and can’t be cut, just like pension benefits.

There is now but one key question: Does a viable pension reform alternative exist? A bill pushed by Senate President John Cullerton, considered an alternative by many, is now almost certainly off the table. That bill gave workers a choice between full pension benefits or subsidized health care - choose pension benefits and health care would be cut. Given Thursday’s ruling, that now seems highly dubious.

One possibility would be to amend the constitution to modify the pension protection clause - not eliminating it but weakening it some. However, this is a lengthy process and may still not protect the state legally if it reduces benefits already promised.

The answers are elusive and the challenges tremendous, but Illinois has come too far to give in now. Over the last five years, the state has made significant strides in cleaning up its fiscal house. And though imperfect, the pension-reform bill builds on that by opening a path to genuine solvency.

In Chicago, the picture is even more bleak, with city pensions in even worse shape than the state’s. Without cost-cutting, the pension funds could easily go belly up even as city residents get hit with dramatic increases in taxes and service cuts.

A final note: For all those outraged with the Supreme Court justices, save your fire. Their job is to interpret the law and the Constitution. Target your outrage at lawmakers, and to a lesser degree union leaders, who for years promised benefits that Illinois couldn’t afford and also failed miserably to make too-low required annual payments.

Channel that outrage where it can do some good: Coming up with a Plan B.

___

July 6, 2014

Belleville News-Democrat

Easy voting ripe for fraud

Gov. Pat Quinn said he wants voting to be “as easy as possible.” Well, mission accomplished. It’s so easy now, we fear for vote fraud.

Thanks to the bill he signed into law last week, Illinois has about as many ways to vote now as Bubba Gump had to prepare shrimp. The only thing that would be easier would be to allow the politicians to cast ballots for the voters.

Early voting days and hours will be extended. Registration will be allowed on Election Day. College students will be able to vote on campus rather than travel home or request an absentee ballot. And that photo ID requirement to vote early? Forget about it.

Democrats rushed the changes through on the second to last day of the legislative session. That gave county clerks and other election authorities little time to protest the extra costs of extended hours or last-minute registrations or the difficulties of ensuring that the voters are legitimate and get only one vote.

But Quinn and company aren’t worried about those kinds of details — or about making things easier for the voters, for that matter. They are trying to make it easier for themselves to get votes on Election Day.

By the way, these changes apply in November only — the election in which Quinn faces a tough re-election battle against Republican Bruce Rauner. Isn’t that special?

This could be the election that gives new meaning to that old political joke: Vote early and vote often.

___

July 2, 2014

The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle

Removing obstacles to voting

Voting is the most basic principle of democracy.

Yet few people exercise their right to vote. A lot of it is indifference, but some of it is the obstacles we place in front of people to be able to vote.

So, we were pleased Tuesday when Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill passed by the Illinois Legislature that will remove more restrictions for people who want to cast a ballot in November.

A cynic would suggest these reforms are nothing more than an attempt by Democrats to bring people more likely to vote Democratic to the polls. There’s probably some truth to that, but what’s wrong with getting more people involved in the process? And what’s stopping them from voting for candidates from any party?

This law would allow Election Day registration and would extend the early voting period by a day to the Sunday before the election. It also would let public universities, including Northern Illinois University, set up a campus location for in-person absentee voting on Election Day. We support all of these actions. We’re wary of another provision that removes the photo identification requirement for in-person early voting, but are open to testing it as long as officials watch out for potential voter fraud and an evaluation is done after the November election.

Ten states and Washington, D.C., already allow same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sponsors of Illinois’ bill said they’d seek to expand the law beyond November if things went smoothly.

This legislation follows allowing 17-year-olds to vote in last March’s primary if they were going to turn 18 before the November general election.

We have an open mind when it comes to removing obstacles from allowing people to vote. We favor these changes for November’s election. If all goes well, we hope Illinois lawmakers consider making these changes permanent.

It would be nice if our elected officials spent less time making everything a partisan issue and more time doing what’s right for Illinois residents and democracy. This arguing over rules allowed to help more people vote is just the latest example.

____

July 2, 2014

The (Alton) Telegraph

Stick to issues, leave comedy for less-serious things

There are times the race for Illinois governor has been amusing - few can deny the comedic value of the Bruce Rauner campaign’s creation of Quinnochio or the Pat Quinn camp sending a man in a chicken suit to a Rauner speech.

It appears the creative well has dried, though, and now we’re seeing tactics that don’t belong in any campaign.

The low road was taken first by Democrats, who last week sent out a news release that had all appearances of coming from the Rauner campaign. But something seemed not quite right.

The news release said Rauner would “emerge from hiding” and talk about whether “clout” was used to get his daughter accepted into an exclusive Chicago high school after a few donations, despite first being turned down.

The following day, a news release claiming to be from Dick Durbin said the senator planned to call in Quinn to testify about a $55 million anti-violence program some have charged was an effort to gain votes in a tight 2010 race. It, too, seemed suspect, given that Durbin is a fellow Democrat and Quinn supporter.

Both are legitimate topics.

It turns out, though, that both were fake; the creation of grasping-for-straws campaign flaks. The pretend news releases were meant to be humorous - “a light-hearted attempt to let the press know where Mr. Rauner would be,” the Democratic side said; a “tongue in cheek” attempt at getting attention said the Republicans.

The releases are, in Durbin’s own words, “a new low.”

If the candidates really want to get the attention of the media, a novel way to do it would be by discussing the issues instead of spinning their wheels lambasting the other party.

In Illinois, there are so many things that should be at the forefront of discussion among those who want to hold the state’s highest office. Job creation, taxes, fiscal responsibility - these are just a few of the myriad concerns among voters.

If a political party really wants to get the attention of media - and through them, the people - start addressing the issues and leave the jokes to the comedians.


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